In The Flesh by Clive Barker

(Books Of Blood, #5)

In the depths of an abandoned steam bath, strangely beautiful women deduce two businessmen into a ritual or macabre sexuality; in a Greek asylum, wise men race frogs to decide of the fate of the world; a petty convict's cellmate reveals to him the gruesome birth of evil; a young woman's slum research leads her into the hook-handed grip of The Candyman, a vicious supernatural killer.

I've wanted to nab this baby forever, since watching the movie Candyman, adapted to the screen by Bernard Rose with Clive's backing. I have owned several of his books of blood anthologies for awhile, yet this one has remained an illusive completion of the cycle. Finally I now own all of them, and read this one within the week of receiving it.

The book, a brief 255 pages, envelops four short stories. The first, 'In The Flesh', is a strange tale following the mind of a convict, Cleve, who is forced by an overeager warden to be the caretaker of his new cellmate, Billy. Strange and reclusive, Billy isn't an easy man to keep safe from the other inmates, but it's even more tiresome trying to get his new companion to sit still on bizarre questions he's filled with. Soon Cleve is forced to witness some pretty strange stuff, and from there the story skyrockets. Baffling and strange, as Barker's works typically are, the short tale is blessed with bizarre imagery, unusual characters and an intriguing outcome. The endings a strange little thing, one I never saw coming, but a dark wrap-up that strangely fits.

Following the unsettling piece is the short story of the legendary Candyman, in written form titled The Forbidden. There are outstanding differences in the short version versus the celluloid portrayal; Helen herself is much different, although not in a bad way, and her goal is instead on the history of graffiti rather than urban legend and myth. Candyman is also quite different, although I noticed much of his dialogue was copied through to the film. That's the only similarity really. Bernadette, Helen's best pal in the film, is only a mere aquaintance shown once here. No one sits to tell the young woman about Candyman's dazzling past, but instead insist she's a naive child being lied to. The situation with Anne-Marie and her son differ so strongly it was hard to compare the story and movie at all. Standing by itself the short story is an intriguing one, even if I felt the ending fell a bit short.

It was hard for me not feel slightly cheated with The Madonna, as no character was likable, the ending seemed strangely depressing, and the story itself devoid of much enjoyment. The idea just seemed too silly and over-the-top, and no explanations for characters given (some of their actions just didn't make sense). It was a brief read, thankfully, but not something that kept my attention like the previous two.

Finally, the shortest story, Babel's Children, may indeed by the strangest. The idea is very outlandish and it's clear Barker's bizarre humor gets to play with this one. The protagonist was a fun woman to follow, her actions making sense, her personality strong and fiesty but using common sense as well. There was a lovely sense of confusion that followed me toward the end, where I then wasn't sure whether to be disgusted or amused. On one hand the story is so far-fetched and silly it's almost a turn-off and cheesy, but on the other hand it makes a morbid sense and purposely pokes fun at a failing system. While I can't make my mind up on which side of the fence to stand firmly on, I'm settling for using both reactions and rating this one an intriguing story with a daring, mediocre death.

If you happy to find this one, pick it up for sure. Short stories aren't my cup of tea, but Barker's writing style in his other Books of Blood anthologies and this one are sure to please. His writing style is intelligent, filled with an advanced, dry style that's poetically beautiful. Some of his phrasing is simply breathtaking, forcing me to repeat the sentences in my mind. All his stories are filled with inventive, unusual worlds not seen elsewhere. The level of horror in his tales is different as well, dark without even seeming to try, cleverly mixed with morbid fantasy. This is one book that thankfully lived up to my expectations in many ways, diving a bit short in others, but I've come to expect the latter fault in anthologies.

   Book Quotes:

“What worth was a man who could not be haunted?”